‘Monty’ takes off at New Leb’s Theater Barn

“The Full Monty”/ By David Yazbek and Terrance McNally/ Directed by Michael C. Mensching/ Theater Barn

FEMALE EAGERNESS to look at a line of naked penises seems like a risky premise on which to hang a musical. (We women can’t seem to summon the proper lust for it.) But authors Yazbek and McNally have pretty much made it work, in part from the sheer novelty of the idea.

Fortunately, there is more here than penis humor. Audiences can’t resist a bunch of desperate unemployed, working-class guys whose masculine identities and family ties have frayed or disappeared along with their paychecks.

An early musical number, “Big-Ass Rock,” performed by Andy Hassell as Jerry, with Brian Sheldon and the lovable Edward Tolve, is irresistible. Even though the concept of friends helping friends to commit suicide seems a bit unlikely for these guys, the number flies–the way musical theater is suppose to. Yeah.

Amy Fiebke as Vicki has a second-rate song to sing (“Life with Harold”), but this woman, with her to-die-for face, honest delivery and high-octane energy can make anything work. She goes beyond making it work, and you’ve got to love her.

We all pull for the men when they hold auditions for a male strip show aimed at a quick fix for insolvency. And when the wonderful Chaz Rose appears to rock the stage with “Big Black Man,” he becomes a singin’, dancin’ fool who plasters the Theater Barn with joy, joy, joy.

The act ends with an exciting, well-designed piece of basketball choreography by Christine Marcella called “Michael Jordan’s Ball.”  (The unemployed guys could have marketed that.)

In spite of its over-abundance of minor-keyed songs with funky, rhythm-and-blues underpinnings, it’s a smashing first act. Victoria Casella at the keyboard, Walter Bauer  on bass and percussionist Ian Tucksmith definitely locate the groove.

Act II dips, as second acts are prone to do. Producer Joan Phelps warns that the show is long. She and her director, Michael C. Mensching, might consider some judicious second-act cuts.

A gay theme arises (as it must in all recent musicals), and Tolve and Steven Cardona get to sing a nicely crafted duet. Their number should read, but doesn’t quite. In fact, in this production, the whole gay coming-out thing seems a bit arbitrary. It may be a staging issue. In another odd staging, Dave and Harold, ostensibly singing a ballad to their sleeping wives, stand far forward, gazing straight out as if the wives are not there. Loved, but discarded corpses perhaps.

Ballads are less than satisfying in this show because the art of legato singing is little to be found except from Tolve and in a few beautiful phrases in the second act sung by Alison Rose Munn.

Solid acting from Brian Sheldon and Sky Vogel keep the flabby, self-conscious Dave and the uxorious ex-boss Harold interesting and believable, real persons throughout.

The surprise actor is 13-year-old Zack Marshall. Though he sometimes lurks in the background, his is a big, important role (Nathan, son of Jerry).  Zack plays it with clear, understated truth. He and his father, (Jerry/Hassell) are deeply, unsentimentally connected, and everything they do together speaks of a loving relationship unsullied by theatrical goo. Here, director Mensching either lets it happen or does it absolutely right.

Sets are a bit awkward, and their changes too frequent and too long. Lighting is excellent and the costumes work.

The final striptease is altogether satisfying and fun.

There has been little said about women in this musical because the women characters (except for Vicki) are mostly forgettable. That’s okay–for now.  Women characters dominate many musicals, so this time it’s a treat to enjoy the men.

Thanks to the Phelpses for springing for a larger-cast musical. So often small regional theaters, for obvious reasons, are confined to micro-casts.

Reserve tickets at 518-794-8989.

 

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